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The Path Forward To Climate Justice

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and National Climate Assessment reports from this year make it clear that the climate crisis is here. In fact, a very recent study out of Princeton regarding the estimated yearly carbon budget that must be adhered to in order to keep the rise in temperature below 2°C recommends that within 4 years, by 2018, we must not produce any more gas-fueled cars or build any new power plants or buildings of any kind unless they are replacing old ones or are carbon-neutral.

This is a big lift in a short time frame. As we have written, the United Nations and US government are so corrupted by Big Business and Finance that they have become conduits for greater corporate rights, market-based false solutions and increasing privatization of land, water and other essential elements. Considering that over the past several decades the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) being released has been increasing considerably, this is the time not only for specific demands but also for urgent action.

There will be thousands of people in New York around the climate talks this month. This is our opportunity to advance the building of a broad climate justice movement that lays a path to real climate solutions coming from the grassroots level. That path will necessarily include resistance to stop harmful policies and practices as well as constructive work to build alternative systems and practices to replace them.
The impacts of the climate crisis are broad, and the work to mitigate and adapt to them must also be broad and include changing the systems that are causing the crises we face to ones that are more just and equitable. There is work for each of us to do.

Fortunately, at the same time that those in power have been making plans to profiteer from the climate crisis, civil society groups around the world have also been meeting and publishing statements on real solutions that are based on the rights of nature and ‘Buen Vivir’ (Good Living). These and recent reports will help to steer our course toward climate justice and sustainability.

Laying the groundwork for real solutions

In Copenhagen in 2009, an alternative summit was held called the Klimaforum09. It was organized by scientists, academics, activists, artists and people from more than 100 countries. Unlike the UN climate meeting, Klimaforum09 was free and open to the public. In addition to exhibitions, there were presentations, cultural events and debates.

At the end of this summit, a statement was issued which called for a “just and sustainable transition of our societies to a form that will ensure the rights of life and dignity of all peoples and deliver a more fertile planet and more fulfilling lives to future generations.”

The statement outlined the causes of the climate crisis as a global economic system that creates unequal access to and ownership of resources, a culture of patriarchy and the failure to “recognise that the human species is part of both nature and society and cannot exist without either.” It outlined clear demands for the UN which include moving rapidly off of fossil fuels, providing reparations and compensation to Southern countries, taxing carbon, avoiding market-based false solutions, reigning in transnational corporate power and altering institutions such as the World Bank so that they respect sovereignty and promote cooperation and sustainable development. At the same time that these demands were listed, the statement reflected an unwillingness to wait for change from above and so it called for a global movement of movements that works together to implement the just transition.

Four months after the Klimaforum, the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It concluded with the Peoples’ Agreement of Cochabamba. Similar to the Klimaforum09 statements, the Cochabamba statement pointed to capitalism as a system at odds with addressing the climate crisis.

Capitalism is an economic system that requires constant growth, but that is not possible on a finite planet. The world’s population is already consuming resources at a level greater than capacity. We are in a lag period between this current over-consumption and its endpoint of a lack of resources, but we are already starting to feel some of its effects on land and water.

Capitalism places profit as the highest priority, even at a cost of exploiting people and harming the earth. It values people only for their material wealth and labor and not as human beings. It requires war over resources and suppression of those who try to resist its predatory behavior. This is why we are experiencing a growing security state not only in the United States, but globally.

The Cochabamba statement reads. “Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.” It describes a new system that is harmonious and that is based on specific principles and rights. On Earth Day in 2010, the conference further delineated this system in a Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, which included obligations for humans, and invited others to sign on to it.

This new economic system, the opposite of capitalism, is reflected in the growing concept of “Buen Vivir,” or Good Living, which Eduardo Gudynas describes as “a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive.” It is in line with the rising global social solidarity economy, which we call a democratized economy in which people have greater control over and benefit from the economy and more participation in the decisions that affect their lives. And it is congruent with the ideas of the ‘wellbeing economy’ and ‘economics of happiness’ which are entering the public dialog.

Research shows that money enhances well-being to a certain point after which more money brings less happiness. Once a person is able to meet their basic needs and has what they require to lead a fulfilling life, more material goods do not increase their well-being, in fact they harm it. Perhaps this is why many Indigenous cultures view people who accumulate excessive goods as mentally ill.

The climate crisis does force us to make a choice about what future we want to have, but that future can be a better one for everyone than what we are currently experiencing. Out of the crisis comes the opportunity to think boldly and restructure our society and ways of living so that we and the people around us are healthier, happier and more secure.

How do we get there?

The path out of the climate crisis is the same as the path for all of the crises that we face. Whether you are concerned about water, food security, housing, education, health care, the environment or worker rights, these issues share common obstacles of a plutocratic government that cannot respond to the public’s needs and a global economy that is based on what is described as predatory financial capitalism, also called neo-liberalism.

The solution is to build a mass movement of movements in which we all see that our issues are connected and work together to be more effective in addressing the crises we face. This movement of movements has two responsibilities that go hand-in-hand: to stop harmful policies and practices and to build alternative systems based on common values that replace the current dysfunctional systems.

Recent research looking at the past 100 years of resistance shows that no government of any form has been able to withstand it when just 3.5% of the population is mobilized and there is majority consensus on the change that people desire. We have written more about this in “History Teaches We Have the Power to Transform the Nation, and Here’s How.” And studies also show that the global population is becoming increasingly mobilized. The number of protests is rising.

Protests are necessary at multiple levels from the community to state, national and international policies and institutions. Many communities are already actively resisting new fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, mountaintop removal for coal, oil and gas extraction and uranium and other mining. Others are organizing to stop privatization of water and infrastructure, corporations that pollute and the financial institutions that fund them.

There are also protests to change public policy at many levels so that there is greater accountability and transparency in government, international institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization and by transnational corporations such as Chevron and Monsanto. In addition to protest, other forms of resistance include using the courts and using economic tactics such as boycotts or buycotts, divestment and strikes. The Albert Einstein Institute lists nearly 200 nonviolent tactics.

As we stop harmful policies and practices, we need alternative policies, practices and institutions that serve the values and principles of the new society we are trying to create to replace them. This creative work, known as constructive program, is very broad because the climate crisis has far-reaching impacts. It needs to occur at every level from the individual to the global society. There is something for every person to contribute.

Our tasks include steps to both mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. A recent article by David Roberts points out that mitigation is something that we do for the whole world. For example, our reductions in carbon emissions are critical not just for our communities but will impact the world and future generations. Adaptations, such as creating local food networks, are actions that primarily affect us personally or our communities, and so it is tempting to focus more of our efforts on these types of changes. But to truly achieve climate justice, we will need to put an emphasis on mitigation as well.

The statements from the Klimaforum09 and World Conference in Cochabamba list real solutions for a just and sustainable transition. They range from obligations which developed countries that are the biggest consumers and polluters have to developing nations which are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis to new systems that can be put in place at various levels. These include renewable energy, changes in agricultural practices, food sovereignty, urban and rural land use planning, buildings, transportation, handling waste, developing new economies and more.

The wide range of work that is being done to develop these alternative institutions and practices is more than can be covered here. All over the world, people are working together to develop and test new ways of living and meeting our needs sustainably. The Internet aids this by allowing people to collaborate and share information across wide distances.

One big change involves moving rapidly to a carbon-free nuclear-free energy economy. Nuclear engineer Arjun Makhijani outlined a roadmap to accomplish this within decades. And a recent report out of Stanford provides detailed information on ways that each state in the US can move to 100% renewable energy by 2050. The city of Burlington, VT just announced its complete transition to renewables this week.

The new Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is a large international coalition of unions dedicated not only to the transition to a renewable energy economy, but also to democratizing energy resources and addressing energy equity. While some consume too much energy and will need to cut back, others lack access to sufficient energy to meet their basic needs and will need more. Their plan is discussed in “Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: Unions and the Struggle for Energy Democracy.”

To read more about what people are doing to make the just transition, there are many websites you can visit. Articles and links are listed on our website,, under the “Create” section.

Strengthening the ‘Movement of Movements’

Thousands of people from across the United States and around the world will be in New York this month for the United Nations’ climate meetings. Many groups are using this opportunity to build and strengthen the necessary movement of movements for climate justice.

Our organization, Popular Resistance, is part of the Global Climate Convergence which is partnering with System Change not Climate Change to organize the New York Climate Convergence on September 19 and 20. It will consist of plenaries and more than 100 workshops and skill shares focused on real solutions to the climate crisis and discussion on how to work together more strategically. Speakers include frontline organizers, activists who are part of the global climate justice movement, scientists, academics, artists and more. Click here for the full schedule of events and names of speakers.

Everyone will come together for the Peoples’ Climate March on Sunday, September 21. Then on Monday, September 22 there will be a mass direct action against the climate profiteers on Wall Street, and on Monday and Tuesday, the Climate Justice Alliance is holding a People’s Summit. Here is a list of more events. Many who cannot travel to New York are organizing solidarity events locally.

Our tasks after this climate justice week will be to continue working together to make the just transition real. That work must take place in our neighborhoods and communities and through networks of organizations. Our window of opportunity for action to mitigate the climate crisis is narrow. And while it sometimes feels like an impossible burden, the reality is that people-powered movements have succeeded in making great changes before us. We can and must act now for climate justice.

This article is part of a series in the lead up to the UN Climate Summit and the activities occurring around that event. It is being produced by Popular Resistance in alliance with Previous articles included:

Climate Crisis Connects Us, Climate Justice Requires Unity, Part I: 

Climate Alarms Ringing, UN Fails To Act, Part II: 

Don’t Look To US Government To Solve Climate Crisis, Part III: 

What Will It Take To Create Climate Justice? Part IV

Broadening And Sharpening The Climate Justice Movement, Part V

Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese are organizers with Popular Resistance, which provides daily movement news and resources. Sign up for their daily newsletter; and follow them on twitter, @PopResistance.

To march with us at the People’s Climate March or join us at the New York Climate Convergence, click here.

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